My Dad and his older sister Madeline shared the same birthday, October 25th. I always thought that was really special. She would always say he was “the best birthday present ever!” Madeline was the protector of her youngest sibling, but as they aged, it was my father who became protective of his oldest sister.
Several years after her husband’s passing and the loss of her two beloved companion dogs, my father worried about his sister living alone. Convincing her to move, she sold her home and her belongings in Massachusetts and moved to a lovely retirement community in Florida, very close to where we lived. She had a furnished apartment with all the comforts of home.
Madeline quickly made friends in her new surroundings and before long, she and several of her new friends signed up for ballroom dancing lessons. They eventually began traveling all over the state for competitions.
My Dad became concerned and skeptical about the outflow of money and the time his sister was spending with dance, and felt that she might be part of a giant scam to separate widows and lonely ladies from their life savings. He felt she was being foolish, a woman her age being “paraded” around the dance floor often with a much younger dance instructor/partner. But Madeline was having a wonderful time anyway and continued dancing, knowing that her brother wasn’t going to come around to her way of thinking.
I loved hearing about Auntie Madeline’s little adventures and road trips as much as she loved talking about them. Her eyes lit up when she spoke of her new-found passion. But my Dad remained concerned, and others in the family continued to relentlessly tease her.
Less than a decade after she had come to enjoy her life in Florida, Madeline’s life came to an end. I recall going with my mother to the apartment where she lived to pack up her personal belongings. In her closet hung her many beautiful dresses, including several incredible ballroom gowns, many pairs of lovely shoes, and boxes of sparkling jewelry.
In a corner of her living room, a special glass étagère held her dance trophies, pictures of family, photos of Madeline and her friends at the dance studio and dance competitions, and group pictures of them sharing a meal at restaurants in different cities.They looked like they were having the time of their lives. In every single picture, Auntie Madeline was laughing or smiling. I commented to my mother how beautiful and happy she looked in those pictures with her friends.
I left the next morning on an early flight to return home. On saying goodbye, my mother handed me a small black ring box. As I opened it, she said “Auntie Madeline wanted you to have this.” Inside the box was a lovely ring. Once back home, I put the ring into my jewelry box, and there it remained a memory, untouched for many years.
Enter David Archuleta, and the eventual, inevitable, state of ODD.
Friends didn’t understand me; my family didn’t either. “Why are you ALWAYS talking about that David Archuleta kid? What is wrong with you? Aren’t you a little bit too old to be listening to a teenage pop singer? You drove to another state alone? You flew halfway across the country for a concert, that’s just crazy! You shared a hotel room with someone you had never met? “
Their comments were hurtful. I started to wonder what was happening to me. I had found something I was so excited about, and yet no one close to me could relate. I came to have enough of the endless teasing and hurtful comments I encountered when I tried to share what I had come to know about David, the person, David, the singer and performer, and his beautiful voice that had stolen my heart. I kept wishing they would see what I saw, could hear what I heard, the absolute level of joy I received listening to the Voice and seeing the smile of this most incredibly talented and special young man. Those closest to me didn’t understand that David Archuleta was becoming a permanent resident of my heart.
I decided to just not bring up the subject of David anymore, to family, or the people I worked with, or friends, but the teasing continued, unabated. I actually eventually became somewhat disengaged with the people who seemed to belittle me, more than tease, and remain more engaged with those who were just happy for me, that I always seemed to wear an inner smile on my face.
One random, rainy, Saturday, I decided to weed out my jewelry box and organize its contents. I opened the long neglected box that contained the lovely ring that Auntie Madeline had given me. I removed it, and slipped it onto my finger. To my surprise, it fit perfectly, years after I had put it away. I smiled and felt my aunt’s presence as I looked at the ring, admiringly. Then the tears came as memories flooded back. I understood now. Madeline too had ODD but not for a person. She, too, had endured the looks, the endless teasing about something that gave her much joy.
But she didn’t let it stop her. She didn’t sit on the sidelines. She danced until she no longer was able. She plunged in, full steam ahead, and did what gave her so much joy, despite being ridiculed by some because of her “age.” She followed her heart, and her passion, abandoning worry about those who thought she was wasting her time and her money. She didn’t let others opinions of her matter. She wasn’t hurting anyone. Her age didn’t stop her. She was young at heart. She would have loved David Archuleta, and he would have loved her “go for it” attitude. I believe David sees our hearts, not our wrinkles, and that he loves his fans of all ages.
Since that rainy day, I wear the ring often on my finger, as my Auntie’s reminder to me, to embrace the people, and the moments, that bring you happiness. Be the age inside your heart. From Madeline to me, and me to you, “I HOPE YOU DANCE.”
Skydancer is a staff writer for The Voice.